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Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home

Updated on: July 20, 2021
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As any dog owner knows, your pet is a valued member of your family. And like any other family member, you want what’s best or them. One way to ensure you’re giving your friend the best possible care is to figure out what your dog’s needs are. But seeing how your pet can’t exactly tell you its needs, you’re somewhat limited. That’s where dog DNA testing can play an important role.

Whether from knowing it’s exact breed identification, potential health risks, or the importance of its genetic traits, the more you know about your pet, the better you can care for it. But what dog DNA test is best? How accurate are they? And are the results even useful?

In our Embark review, we’ll cover what I learned about the company when testing my dog Loki. So before you put the wellbeing of your dog in the hands of an at-home DNA testing company, read our Embark review and see if this doggy genetic testing kit is right for you and your furry friend.

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 1
Embark

The leader of Dog DNA Testing

Embark gets our recommendation for dog DNA testing because they're an established company, they are the market leader, and provide terrific info for you and your dog (read review below to see my dog's DNA results).

Embark:

  • Biotechnology and genomics company for dogs
  • Offers canine DNA testing services to breeders, consumers, and veterinarians
  • Based out of Boston, Massachusetts 
  • Founded by Ryan Boyko, Adam Boyko, Spencer Wells, and Matt Salzberg
  • The company’s stated goals are to help dog owners to better understand the health of their pets and to advance the field of canine DNA research 

Quick facts:

Sample CollectionSaliva swab
DNA Testing TypeAnalyzes over 200,000 genetic markers
Speed2-4 weeks
Privacy ProtectionDecent

How much does an Embark DNA kit cost?

Currently, Embark has two different tests to choose from. The costs of each are as follows:

  • Breed Identification Test Kit - slightly cheaper
    • Looks at over 200,000 genetic markers
    • Covers more than 350 dog breeds
    • Includes a family tree
    • Learn about your pet’s relatives and Family Tree
  • Breed + Health Test Kit — $199
    • Includes everything you get with the Breed Identification Kit
    • Covers more than 200 health conditions
    • Learn about 20+ physical traits

What’s in the box

Your DNA testing kit includes:

  • DNA sample collection swab
  • Stabilizing fluid
  • Instructions
  • Prepaid return envelope
Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 2
Here is the kit I got from Embark

Send in steps

With Embark, DNA testing your dog is quick and easy. Once you’ve received your doggy genetic testing kit, you’ll simply need to do take the following steps:

  1. Navigate to embarkvet.com and click the ‘Activate Kit’ button found in the top right corner of the screen. When prompted, input your 7 digit activation code (your activation code will appear as follows — ‘EM-1234567’).
  1. Open your kit and remove the DNA sample collecting swab. 
  1. Make sure the swab doesn’t touch anything other than the inside of your pet’s mouth and do not let your dog eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes before collecting the DNA sample.
  1. For 30 to 60 seconds, mop the collection swab’s sponge in your dog’s cheek pouch and under its tongue. Make sure the sponge is fully saturated with saliva. If you’re having difficulty collecting enough saliva, show your pet a treat to cause it to salivate. Do not let it eat the treat.
  1. While holding the swab upright, unscrew the cap from the collection tube. Turn the cap upside down and place the sponge into the stabilizing fluid. Fully rotate the cap until it can no longer turn to ensure that it is sealed.
  1. Invert the tube and vigorously shake it for 10 seconds.
  1. Return the DNA sample to Embark using the included prepaid envelope. You should receive your results within 3 to 5 weeks.

Here a few pictures of me giving the kit to my dog Loki. There was some struggling but overall he didn't mind getting his lower cheeks swabbed:

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 3
Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 4
Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 5

Embark also lets you know the status of your sample:

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 6

How is my privacy protected with Embark?

According to Embark’s privacy policy, your personal information will be used in a few different ways. First, any information you provide to the company may be shared with third parties employed by Embark in order to render the necessary services. This includes outside laboratories and research organizations. Sharing your data with these third-parties is necessary for Embark to provide their products and services and shouldn’t be of too much concern. 

They may also use your information to investigate any potential violations of the company’s terms of service and when they’re legally obligated to do so. This also shouldn’t be a problem as long as you’re not trying to do anything illegal through them.

The main concern is that they may use your data and that which they collect through their website for advertising and research purposes. While it’s possible to opt-out of having your dog’s genetic data used for research, the fact that this is done at all has raised some privacy concerns among users.

The competition

Other than Embark, there are a few other notable companies that offer similar services. These other doggy genetic testing companies include:

  • Wisdom Panel ($99.99-$159.99) Test for over 350 different breed types, up to 200+ genetic conditions, and more than 35 traits. The premium kit also includes a free call with one of Wisdom Panel’s licensed veterinarians to discuss any health findings that arise.
  • DNA My Dog ($68.99-$188.99) — With 7 test kits to choose from, DNA My Dog offers a wide array of services. From doggy allergy tests, breed identification tests, and genetic and health screenings, what you get all depends on the kit you end up ordering.

The test results

Embark’s dog DNA test results cover four different aspects of your dog’s genetic makeup. This may vary depending on the kit you order, with the health portion of your test results being exclusive to their Breed + Health Test Kit customers. We’ll look at each of the things covered in the test results in greater detail below.

Breed 

One of the first sections you’ll likely look at in your dog’s test results is its breed identification. By looking at your pet’s genes, Embark will delve into its paternal and maternal line. With this information, Embark will create a ‘family tree’ for your pet, laying out its genetic makeup and breed. The company is able to test for over 350 different dog breeds in total.

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 7
source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5492993/

Breed Result

Loki is a goldendoodle F1B (meaning that he is 3/4 poodle and 1/4 golden retriever). Here is what Embark displayed as his results:

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 8

He tested for about what we thought he was.

Family Tree

These were Loki's Results:

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 9

As far as I know, this looks about accurate. I could see this image being a lot more interesting if someone had a mixed breed instead of the intentionally bred dog that Loki is.

You are also able to look at Dogs Like Mine(dogs with similar genetic results), Maternal Haplotype (you can see your dog's maternal lineage, and Paternal Haplotype (your dogs paternal lineage). These last 2 give you a map something like this:

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 10

As well as tons of information about their different haplogroups.

Health 

As all pet owners know, your dog’s health is of the utmost importance. In the health screening portion of the test results, you can get a better idea of the issues you may need to watch out for. Embark looks for over 200 different possible genetic health conditions that are common among animals that share your dog’s genetic makeup. 

Embark gives you a nice dashboard that looks like this:

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 11

As you can see from Loki's results, he is at an increased risk of Intervertebral Disc Disease (Type I). Embark sent me an email prior to getting these results to remind me that increased risk doesn't necessarily mean that he'll get this. They also give information on what I can do as his owner to help him if he does develop this (Loki is 2 right now so this wouldn't present itself for a while).

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 12

Finally, if your dog does have variant risk, you are also able to send the results to your vet:

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 13

Physical traits

From your dog’s coat color to the shape of its snout and the length of its tail, in this portion of your test results, you’ll learn about the physical traits that make your pet unique.

For Loki, who is still a puppy, I learned that he’ll one day grow to be relatively large. This has helped me determine how much exercise he should get and the amount of food I should be shoveling into his bowl, all useful information to keep Loki as healthy as possible.

Relatives

This is one of my favorite parts about Embark’s test results — discovering if any of your doggy’s distant relatives have also taken the company’s DNA tests. By combing through their database of DNA results, Embark knows if your pet has any long lost relatives whose parents were also curious enough to genetically test their furry friend.

Here, I found out that Loki shares 15% of his DNA with a Labradoodle named Kat (weird name for a dog, I know) who is currently living in Richmond, Virginia. While this information isn’t all that useful, it’s fun to know that one of my dog’s relatives also has some inquisitive parents who spent time collecting their companion’s saliva. 

Embark even allows you to contact their owners in case you’re interested in arranging a future playdate (I’m still waiting to hear back from Kat’s parents).

Embark review of accuracy 

Since it was developed in partnership with the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Embark is twice as precise as other dog DNA tests.

That said, there are a few things to consider.

While your Embark test results are pretty reliable, they’re no replacement for regular checkups with the vet. This is especially true for the health portion of the DNA results. While you may learn about your dog’s potential to develop certain genetic health conditions, this is by no means a diagnosis.

Some vets have even expressed concern about the accuracy of these health results. A missed genetic condition could lead to you overlooking a potentially serious issue that your dog may have. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you may receive results that state your dog is prone to a condition it never develops, leading to unnecessary medical treatments that could hurt your pooch in the long run.

So use these results as a fun way to learn a bit more about your pet, but don’t take anything they say as a concrete diagnosis.

Overall review of Embark: A fun way to learn about your pet

Pros

  • Includes 350+ breeds
  • 190+ health conditions
  • Painless and easy sample collection
  • Find your dog’s living relatives
  • Competitively priced
  • Return shipping is included for US-based customers

Cons

  • Health results aren’t a concrete diagnosis
  • Doesn’t give a thorough breakdown of all mixed-breed dogs
  • Free shipping only covers customers within the United States

While I thought Embark’s genetic testing was a fun way to learn a little bit more about my four-legged friend, they’re not much more than that. While they do include some interesting and actionable results in the traits and health portions, everything here has to be taken with a grain of salt. 

These results aren’t necessarily 100% accurate. Treating them like they are could even lead to unnecessary treatments or taking actions that aren’t beneficial, or worse, could be harmful.

Regardless of this, I had a great time reading about everything Loki’s DNA had to tell me. So use this test as a fun way to get to know your pet better. Don’t use it as a replacement for regular checkups and visits to the vet.

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 1
Embark

The leader of Dog DNA Testing

Embark gets our recommendation for dog DNA testing because they're an established company, they are the market leader, and provide terrific info for you and your dog (read review below to see my dog's DNA results).

Embark vs Wisdom panel

Wisdom panel offers 2 DNA testing options; Wisdom panel 4.0 helps determine your dog's genetic breed ancestry by comparing its DNA to over 250 breeds. The second test, Wisdom panel Health, comes with additional screening for about 150 genetic mutations. These tests are based on pure breed types and varieties found in both the Kennel Club and America Kennel Club's registry lists. If your dog's lineage is from countries outside Northern and Western Europe, Canada, and the U.S.  Wisdom panel's breed detection results will have a more significant margin of error.

The Embark dog DNA test, on the other hand, will answer all the pertinent questions you might have concerning your pet

Besides checking your dog's DNA against a database that's just as broad as Wisdom Panel's, the test will determine your furry friend's haplogroup, haplotype, and ancestral migration routes. It will screen your dog for more than 165 genetic conditions (that's at least 10 more than the Wisdom panel test). It will also determine your dog's genetic age.

Why Health Screenings Are Important

Fast diagnosis

The tests performed during a health screening will increase the speed of diagnosis and improve medical outcomes (if your pet is found to have an illness).

Here's an example; neurological diseases like degenerative myelopathy are adult-onset conditions whose signs may not present until it reaches late adulthood. The most substantial pieces of evidence in diagnosing these conditions before death are their classic signs combined with genetic tests results confirming that the dog inherited mutated copies of the responsible genes. If the dog has never had an evaluation, the vet will have to perform all these tests to make a diagnosis.

However, if your dog has had an evaluation, you won't need to order a genetic test. This will save you valuable time and money as you attempt to diagnose your dog's condition.

Fast treatment

Health screening helps you provide proactive treatment for illnesses that require immediate medical intervention. This can prevent or limit the clinical signs associated with the disease.

An example to consider here is intestinal cobalamin malabsorption, in which dogs are born unable to absorb vitamin B-12. Left untreated, these animals suffer a range of clinical signs that include emaciation, anaemia, neurological disease, and death.

In most scenarios, dogs will not exhibit any signs of cobalamin deficiency until they're 3-4 months old and the fetal stores of cobalamin have been depleted. If your dog is diagnosed at a young age through routine genetic screening, it will have regular supplements to avoid the severe consequences associated with deficiency. Dogs that start a lifelong routine of parenteral supplements have a good chance of living happy, everyday lives with few - no long term health consequences.

Safer medicine

Medical evaluations also help doctors choose the safest medications for your dog. Many canines are allergic to the anaesthetic agents used in vet clinics, which put them at risk for adverse health effects.

Dogs who carry the gene for multidrug resistance (MDR1), for instance, are very likely to experience several adverse neurological effects when given drugs that interact with the P-glycoprotein. Medical evaluations will quickly reveal if your pet carries such genes, allowing for safer medications to be administered whenever it is possible.

FAQ

How does dog DNA testing work?

Through the use of a small saliva sample, Embark analyzes over 200,000 genetic markers and compares them to the latest research to deliver a wealth of information about your pet.

Can dog DNA tests help with obedience training?

Yes and no. The breed and traits portion of your test can tell you about certain behaviors that are common among dogs with a similar genetic makeup. This can help you to determine what sort of training could be beneficial to your pet. But as every dog’s personality can vary greatly, regardless of genetics, the things you learn here aren’t necessarily 100% applicable to your specific animal’s behaviors.

What can dog DNA tests tell you about your dog's health?

Your DNA results can tell you about the health conditions common among dogs with similar genetics to yours. However, this is by no means a diagnosis, and your results can’t tell you, with 100% accuracy, anything solid about your dog’s genetic health. Only a vet will be able to do that.

What did we discover with our dog's Embark DNA test?

I learned that I’m the proud owner of a labradoodle, who may be prone to degenerative myelopathy and glaucoma in his older age. I also learned he will likely grow large and that he has a long lost relative living in Virginia.

Does embark test for wolf?

Yes. Embark tests for over 350 breeds such as Wolves, Dingoes, Village Dogs, and Coyotes

Embark Review: Doggy DNA testing from the comfort of home 1
Embark

The leader of Dog DNA Testing

Embark gets our recommendation for dog DNA testing because they're an established company, they are the market leader, and provide terrific info for you and your dog (read review below to see my dog's DNA results).

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